Rhythm and Pace

If a business is to be considered a continuous process, instead of a series of disjointed stop-and-go events, then the economic universe in which a business operates – and all the major events within it – must have rhyme, rhythm, or reason.”  ~Peter F. Drucker

What I loved about my grandparent’s dinner table was the dance of rhythm and pace. We each had a role, we knew what was expected of us, and there was a rhythm to the experience we could all participate in and enjoy. Grandpa J was always served first, then Granny Ann and us kids last. The courses of soup in the winter and salad in the summer, then the main — always a meat from the farm and at least two vegetables and seasonal dessert — it was predictable, represented our shared values of community, family and food and gave us something we could rely on as children.

People don’t think about rhythm in many organizations – they generally just focus on getting shit done, going to the next meeting, finishing a task, and checking emails – this creates a rhythm all its own, albeit haphazard and hard to follow.

When we are thoughtful about the rhythm we want to create, it serves the flow of our teams and our customers. Many organizations have a seasonality to their business, and it’s not necessarily their fiscal or calendar year. This seasonality may play a large part or small part to the rhythm of the work — at the FinTech companies I’ve worked at, it centres around the tax year with general spikes in activity in January and February, so product and marketing are orchestrated to catch that wave and build awareness well in advance.

At a recent fractional COO role at a SAAS company without a distinct rhythm, I found staff that were burnt out, top performers leaving the organization, everyone working nights, weekends, running from meeting to meeting with no breathing room — lunch seemed to be the only time they held as almost sacred space for everyone to individually catch up and the executives regularly booked into that time. They had devolved to being driven by sales — not at the fault of sales — rather because of the default fear-based approach of seeing $ as the only driver of success and forgetting the rest. That people matter — if we focus on our people we won’t compromise performance or sales — in fact, we will create greater success that is shared and sustained.

World-class product companies create a symbiotic drumbeat of taking care of their people, customers and business. Just like my grandparents’ dinner table — the known roles, the clear expectations of what was said and when, the significance of the components of the meal and how they complement each other — every element has its place and combining to create the whole experience.

During my time in-house at FreshBooks, our first annual strategic planning offsite as the inaugural executive team occurred at a country inn in a grand house that reminded me of my Grandparent’s house in SA. Two floors: big rooms each with a particular function, with all main rooms leading out to the gardens. This fit our style: being in nature, in a comfortable setting with some formality of rhythm and flow that defined the tone.

This was serious — we were here to truthfully assess our performance, hold ourselves to account and ensure we were thinking big enough and could come out with absolute clarity to share across the teams. We were setting a tone and rhythm for a regular quarterly and annual planning session. Each organization has an etiquette for conflict and query — role model the rhythm and tone for the rest of our teams to become the world-class SAAS we became.

So how can you create the rhythm?

  • Start at the top — the executive team sets the pace for everyone, followed by the core of your business: product or service.
    • Do you plan quarterly or on the half year?
    • How do you consider the seasonality of your business in the plan? For one client, their big wave happens at the end of a typical fiscal year, so marketing, product releases, etc need to gear up well in advance of that time.Start at the top — the executive team sets the pace for everyone, followed by the core of your business: product or service.
  • Create the pace at the team level to match and drive performance through transparent Socratic accountability.
    • What’s the smallest increment of runway or execution before you stop to reflect? Some executive teams do a deep dive monthly — half-day sessions with all the data shared in advance; others do a weekly or bi-weekly Level10 type meeting; at the team level, that might look like a daily scrum and quarterly deep dive review
    • What structures do you use for oversight, e.g. if you have a Board you report to, you drive your financial results and review around that board meeting. Can your people operations team support alignment against the goals of the plan through role clarity and performance review cycles once or twice a year?
    • What high-performing team tools can you offer to drive greater success? Do your teams have a mission that aligns with that of the organization as well as a set of team norms to create a matching culture? Do you want it to feel spacious, inspirational, serious or something else? Do you break goals down by leader and ensure everyone has as much context as possible in Town Halls, team offsites, etc? At Mozilla and Shopify, we held both post-mortems and pre-mortems to enhance innovation and accelerate learning; they were generally done along with an offsite that included celebratory dinners and time together in a more social setting as a team.
  • Consider what you need to support your own leadership development.
    • Many executives I work with have a daily practice – starting with meditation, setting the intention for the day, or an exercise routine that keeps them motivated and energized
    • Some executives take themselves on a monthly or weekly ‘date’ — to reflect on their business and get out of the weeds or to simply inspire themselves with a completely different experience, an art gallery, walk in the park, etc.

Journal Prompt

What rhythm do you want to have for yourself or with your team to celebrate? To create accountability? To plan?

What might you co-create taking up the right amount of space and pressure? What is the right amount? How does it relate to your leadership?

What’s on Repeat

Songs we can’t get enough of:

Today’s edition of the L@S Newsletter was written by Michal Berman. Mic is a certified coach, founder of L@S, and a former executive at companies like FreshBooks, FundThrough, and Mozilla Firefox.

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